Family of model who drove into river from dead-end road awarded $12M

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A jury awarded over $12 million to the family of a fashion model who died in May 12, 2011 when she drove her car into the Chicago River.

Attorneys for the city argued it was the driver, Irma Sabanovic, who was negligent. But attorneys for her family said the city knew the danger because this wasn't the first time someone had driven into that section of the river.

Sabanovic's family says the jury award is bittersweet.

"I wish I'm not here today. There is nothing that can replace my sister, nothing in this world," said sister Amra Sabanovic.

The 25-year-old died when she drove her vehicle into the north branch of the river from Goose Island off the 1100-block of W. Blackhawk St. The street she was on dead-ends into the water. After disappearing, it took nine days for searchers to find her entombed in her submerged automobile.

Protective barriers were erected after the incident. But lawyers for the Sabanovic family argued they should have been up before the crash.

"The City of Chicago has taken such a cavalier approach to the safety of its citizens," said Ian Alexander, attorney for the Sabanovic family.

Attorneys for the Sabanovic family argued the city knew the danger following a similar incident in 1992 when comedian Ricky Roman of the Upright Citizens Brigade, was also killed after driving into that section of the river.

Documents show the city afterward put up barriers. But for some reason they went missing. The city argued it was Sabanovic who was at fault, saying she had been drinking.

"For the city to do nothing and then blame the victim, it's astonishing," said Alexander.

Attorneys presented photos in court showing what the street would have looked like at night.

In the end, the jury found some negligence on Sabanovic's part but still awarded her estate $12.5 million.

"I hope this type of accident never happens again to anybody," said sister Alma Sabanovic.

This jury award comes after a four-year legal fight. A spokesperson for the city's law department released a statement that reads: "We are disappointed in the jury's verdict and are planning to appeal."

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